UPDATE 3: Ann Wagner is now out of the running, too.
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE:MSNBC is reporting that RNC chairman Michael Steele has withdrawn from his race for a second term. He had fallen to third place in the balloting behind the front-runner, Reince Priebus. No word on who is at number two.
UPDATE: Saying “it’s very clear that party wants to do something different,” Michael Steele dropped out of the race for a second term as RNC chairman on Friday. Then he said “exit, stage right” … but actually exited stage left. (sigh)
The National Journal reports:
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has abandoned his bid to remain in his post, bowing to the reality that he does not have the support for another term. Voting continues to determine his replacement.
“I’m grateful to have served with one of the best RNC committees in a long, long time,” Steele said earlier in the day.
The former Maryland lieutenant governor was seeking a second term after a tumultuous tenure. He defended his record, touting the million new donors the party attracted, the electoral gains of the past year and investments in technology and infrastructure the party can use going forward. But, he acknowledged, the party faces a tough task in the 2012 election.
“Now the task becomes harder, because President Obama is waiting for you. The Democrat Party is waiting for you,” he said. “I know the work that lies ahead will be challenging.”
Steele had about a quarter of the votes going in, but was losing support ballot after ballot.
The favorite going into late voting remains Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, a onetime Steele ally.
Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus leads in early balloting that could spell the end of Michael Steele’s tenure as chairman of the RNC.
Priebus captured 45 votes from the committee members, just edging out Michael Steele, the current chairman, who got 44.
Maria Cino, a well-connected operative and Pfizer lobbyist, exceeded expectations with 32 votes. Michigan Committeeman Saul Anuzis finished fourth on the initial ballot with 24, followed by former Missouri GOP Chair Ann Wagner at 23 votes.
Though Priebus registered the early lead, the fact that he did not crack 50 votes likely means the election will not be determined for many ballots to come. Preibus entered Friday’s vote with 44 public supporters, just more than half of the 85 he needs to win.
Candidates are not required to drop out if they aren’t able to get early votes.
Though Priebus is seen as the favorite, both Anuzis and Wagner are believed to have paths to victory. And Cino’s supporters believe her years of experience in Republican politics could sway members looking for a competent chairman after losing hope for their preferred candidate.
Steele supporters insist that the current chairman should not be counted out. They believe that in a field of challengers few on the committee are really excited about, many of the members who have voiced concerns about Steele may end up coming home to the current chairman in a later round. …
Cino, you’ll recall, also has the support of House Speaker John Boehner, who ditched out on the Arizona memorial (and a ride on Air Force One) in order to hold a cocktail party for her.
And here, the inescapable question of race.
UPDATE: Politico is reporting Steele and Ann Wagner just broke off a private side meeting, though there’s no confirmation of a deal.